In some rare cases, the pericardium (the lining that surrounds the heart) will develop mesothelioma cancer cells. This condition is referred to as pericardial mesothelioma and makes up 1 percent of diagnoses.
What is Pericardial Mesothelioma?
At this point, little is known about the development of pericardial mesothelioma. No one knows exactly how the asbestos fibers that trigger all types of mesothelioma could reach the pericardium. Simply diagnosing the condition is challenging any many members of the healthcare community suspect there are many cases that never get discovered until the patient has passed away and an autopsy has been performed.
One of the really interesting things physicians have noticed about this type of mesothelioma cancer is that the odds of a man getting diagnosed with the condition is two times higher than that of a woman, this could be a result of different traditional work environments.
Some cases of pericardial mesothelioma have involved the cancer moving to the lung and abdomen and metastasizing.
Symptoms of Pericardial Mesothelioma
Patients with pericardial mesothelioma can experience a wide assortment of symptoms. The severity of the symptoms depends on what stage the cancer is in, and what part of the pericardium is impacted.
Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Varying levels of chest pain
- Some swelling of the face and arms
- Heart murmurs or irregular heartbeat
- Persistent cough
- Pericardial effusion
Diagnosing Pericardial Mesothelioma
The extreme rarity of pericardial mesothelioma makes it difficult for physicians who don’t have much experience with the disease to diagnose it early. The greatest way to increase the odds of an early diagnosis is by providing detailed information about past home and work environment so your physician can evaluate your risk for pericardial mesothelioma and refer you to a specialist or a mesothelioma doctor.
Most patients complain about symptoms, particularly chest pain before pericardial mesothelioma is even suspected. Pericardial mesothelioma is frequently mistaken for:
- Constrictive pericarditis
- Cardiac failure
- Cardiac tamponade
The most effective way of diagnosing this particular type of cancer is with fluid and tissue biopsies. The tissue has to be specifically tested for pericardial mesothelioma.
Additional tools used to help diagnose the disease include CT scans and echocardiograms. Without the use of an echocardiogram, it’s impossible for physicians to determine how badly the mesothelioma cancer has impacted the heart.
Three Common Types of Pericardial Mesothelioma Treatment
The difficulty in getting an early diagnosis of the disease, combined with the fact that the heart is such a sensitive and important organ makes treating pericardial mesothelioma difficult. There are three treatment options currently in use that patients can consider.
A pericardiectomy involves the doctor removing both a portion of the heart’s pericardium as well as any tumors. Although pericardiectomy can be a very successful form of treatment, it only works if the patient is in the early stages of cancer. Since early diagnosis is rare, it’s not a good treatment option for the average patient.
The most common form of treatment patients with pericardial mesothelioma undergo is chemotherapy. There are multiple chemotherapy options and different ones do different things to extend the patient’s life. This type of treatment generates the most positive results when used in tandem with radiation.
The chemotherapy drug, Gemcitabine, has proven to be particularly effective for treating this rare type of mesothelioma cancer.
One of the only effective chemotherapy treatments for patients with pericardial mesothelioma is the drug gemcitabine. Gemcitabine can shrink tumors and slow the progression of mesothelioma. More research is being done to find more treatment options for this rare type of mesothelioma.
Doctors like to use radiation treatment because it’s the least invasive method for controlling and even treating pericardial mesothelioma. There have been many cases of palliative radiation being used as well as curative. The goal of radiation is to shrink the tumors size and prevent it from invading the sensitive heart muscles.
Compared to the long-term prognosis for pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, the prognosis for patients with pericardial mesothelioma isn’t bright. Not only is it difficult to diagnose the disease before it becomes too advanced to treat, the extreme rarity of the cancer makes conducting the research needed to develop new, more effective treatments, difficult.
The good news is that some patients have enjoyed a good life even after their diagnosis. One patient survived five years after receiving surgery. Johns Hopkins Hospital is conducting research that indicates the patients who receive pericardiectomies after their diagnosis are experiencing lower mortality rates.
Patients who have been diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma should seriously consider taking part in clinical trials which offer treatment options cot currently available through traditional medical programs.